From Comcast SportsNetNEW YORK (AP) -- David Stern took the NBA around the globe in nearly three decades as commissioner, turning what was a second-rate league into a projected 5-billion-a-year industry.Now, confident a worthy successor is in place with a labor deal that will ensure the game's continued growth, Stern is ready to stay home.Stern will retire as commissioner Feb. 1, 2014, 30 years to the day after taking charge of the league, ending one of the most successful and impactful careers in sports history. He will be replaced by Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver."I don't know what else to say other than to recite what I told the owners yesterday in executive session," Stern said Thursday during a press conference after the board of governors meetings. "I told them that it's been a great run, it will continue for another 15 months, that the league is in, I think, terrific condition."Stern is the one who got it there, turning a league with little-to-no TV presence -- the NBA Finals were on tape delay in the early 1980s -- into one that's televised live in 215 countries and is pro sports' leader in digital and social media.He has been perhaps the model sports commissioner.Name an important policy in the NBA -- drug testing, salary cap, even a dress code -- and Stern had a hand in it. A lawyer by trade, he was a fearless negotiator against players and referees, but also their biggest defender any time he felt they were unfairly criticized."For all the things you've done for the NBA and for sports generally, I think there's no doubt that you'll be remembered as the best of all-time as commissioners go and you've set the standard, I think not even just for sports league commissioners, but for CEOs in any industry," Silver told Stern sitting to his left on a podium.Stern told owners of his plans during their two days of meetings, and the board unanimously decided Silver would be his successor. Owners will begin negotiations with the 50-year-old Silver in hopes of having a contract completed by their next meeting in April.Stern, who turned 70 last month, became commissioner on Feb. 1, 1984. He has been the NBA's longest-serving commissioner, establishing the league's brand around the world, presiding over team expansion and overseeing the establishment of the WNBA and the NBA Development League."There is no debate that David Stern has earned his spot in the pantheon of sports commissioners. Deservedly, his name and reputation will always be synonymous with the phenomenal growth and success of the NBA over the last three decades," union executive director Billy Hunter said in a statement. "His absence will surely be felt by anyone connected to the NBA and the sport of basketball, although clearly the league will be left in very capable hands with the appointment of Adam Silver as the next commissioner."Seven franchises have been added under Stern and the league has seen a 30-fold increase in revenues. Stern insisted the NBA have a presence on social media, and the league and players have more than 270 million likes and followers on Facebook and Twitter."There are all kinds of other business metrics we could look at that would define David as one of the great business leaders of our time," Silver said.Stern said he decided on his plans about six months ago, having guided the league through a lockout that ended last December. He didn't want to leave until the labor deal was completed or until he was confident there was a successor in place, and both are done. Silver has worked at the NBA for 20 years and been the league's No. 2 since 2006, and both Stern and league owners praise his abilities."A couple of things that stand out to me is that David has been, in my estimation, the type of commissioner that has set the standard not only for the NBA but for all of the sports," said Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, the outgoing chairman of the board of governors. "We have done so many wonderful things in the organization. The marketing, leadership, the brand recognition, going international way before our times, and David has led that."Taylor said there's been a "40-fold" increase in revenues from the league's national TV contract, and that the average player salary will have had grown from 250,000 when Stern took over to 5 million by the end of the current collective bargaining agreement.Stern was the league's outside counsel from 1966-78, then its general counsel before becoming executive vice president of business and legal affairs from 1980-84. He replaced Larry O'Brien to become the league's fourth commissioner, getting a boost in taking the game mainstream with the popularity of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, and soon Michael Jordan. The league began marketing its stars, and Stern found the desire for them was greatest in some far-away lands.The real explosion came in 1992, when those three headed the Dream Team that led the U.S. to the Olympic basketball gold medal while winning fans around the world. The NBA has gone on to play games in 17 countries, staging 114 international games."He's done a remarkable job," Major League Baseball Commission Bud Selig said at the World Series. "To think of what the NBA was when he came in and what it is today, most people judge him very, very highly."There were rough patches, particularly the brawl between Indiana Pacers players and Detroit Pistons fans in 2004, and the betting scandal involving former referee Tim Donaghy. Stern had already passed off most of the heavy lifting to Silver by last year, but he was the one absorbing the criticism during the lockout for the second shortened season in his tenure.He sometimes appeared worn down during the negotiations, even missing one critical bargaining session while sick, but insists he's got plenty of energy to keep working now."I feel great," Stern said. "I'm enjoying my job, but I'm looking forward to doing some other things. I'm stepping down, I'm not retiring."Stern just recently returned from China, Germany and Italy, and plans another overseas trip next season, and will remain an adviser to the league in retirement on international matters."We just think that his leadership will be important to our future," Taylor said.It's meant everything to the league's past.The league has reported huge increases in ticket and merchandise sales, and TV ratings are at an all-time high. Last season's lockout, the second time the league lost games to a work stoppage, hardly made a dent in the league's business or in fans' interest.But even for Stern, business has always taken a back seat to basketball. He's sought changes to improve the product on the court, such as the elimination of isolation play that bored him, to implementing penalties that go into effect this season for flopping."For the most part it's been a series of extraordinary experiences and enormous putting together of pieces of a puzzle and it goes on forever," Stern said. "And there will always be another piece of the puzzle and so the question is at what point do you decide that, let someone else do it? That's the point that I'm at now."Taylor and Spurs owner Peter Holt, who is replacing him as board chairman, said the owners will work to have a contract with Silver by April. Silver, who served a variety of positions before becoming deputy commissioner, was the lead negotiator during the lockout and Stern has relied more heavily on him in recent years, even turning to Silver to answer questions on tougher topics.Stern said he wouldn't leave until he knew there was a successor ready, and he has repeatedly said Silver is ready for that role. Stern said he would always remain available to take a call and help the league."Life is a journey and it's been a spectacular journey," Stern said. "Each step along the way there are things that you have to do, things that you maybe wish you hadn't done. But I don't keep that list, and so I'm totally pleased and I'm particularly pleased with the transition of which we're now embarking."
The entire concept of Tuukka Rask getting pushed by one of his backups is based on the backup consistently performing at a high standard, and that wasn’t the case for Anton Khudobin over the weekend.
Just as it isn’t solely the fault of Rask when the Bruins lose, it wasn’t solely the fault of Khudobin that Boston squandered leads of 3-0 and 4-1 in an overtime loss to Buffalo on Saturday night. But Khudobin couldn’t step up and carry the B's when they clearly started losing their edge in the second half of the game, and that inconsistency will certainly make the Bruins pine for a sooner-rather-than-later return of a concussed Rask.
“Erratic,” said coach Bruce Cassidy when asked to describe Khudobin postgame. “He battles. We love that about him. He battled to the end. He certainly made his share of saves. We need to be better in front of him. But there were times that, there were fires that needed to be put out that shouldn’t have been necessary. But that happens sometimes.”
It was certainly too much to expect Khudobin to be perfect, but they just needed him to be good enough to pull them through while they were getting waylaid in the second half of the game. That proved to be a major challenge, given the players the Bruins are missing and the extremely rough night suffered by Torey Krug (minus-3 on Saturday night, and minus-8 for the season). Khudobin finished with 37 stops as a defense corps without Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller wilted in the third period and the overtime, but he couldn’t make the clean saves for whistles when the team really needed them. Case in point was a Rasmus Ristolainen tester in overtime while the Bruins were in the midst of being outshot by a 6-0 margin in the extra session. Khudobin got a glove on it but couldn’t cleanly catch it for a badly needed stoppage in play at a time when Krug, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand had been caught on the ice for over two minutes.
"The start was great, and the game was great until we scored the fourth goal, and I think after that, we thought it was an easy game,” said Khudobin. “[The high volume of shots] wasn’t that much difficult, I like shots, like probably every other goalie, but they were crashing the net. They were going hard. There were a lot of deflections, a lot of rebounds, a lot of scrums in front of the net, which were . . .that’s the dangerous part, not just the shots.”
Khudobin, 31, has taken five of a possible six points in the games he's played this season and is off to a solid start with a 2-0-1 record, a 2.98 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage. He looks like he’s going to be a perfectly fine backup, enabling the Bruins to hold Rask to the 55-60 games they’ve forecasted for his peak performance this season.
But Saturday night was a major blow to any hopes that Rask would be pushed competitively by his backup, and that a Khudobin hot streak could spark a slow-starting, and now injured, Rask when he does return.
Instead the Bruins are left to hope they can survive while missing Rask along with a number of other key players, and that the goalie returns sooner than later to a team that can’t survive too many morale-crushing defeats like the choke job against the lowly Sabres.
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FOXBORO -- Over the Patriots’ 17-year run of excellence, the inevitability of improvement has been a constant.
No matter what’s messed up, no matter how bad it looks, the Patriots will -- almost without exception -- figure it out. There are myriad reasons for that and one of them is that they have the ultimate weapon in quarterback Tom Brady, but he isn’t the bottom-line answer to all of it. The common denominator to why they get better is trust. They buy in. The "Do Your Job” stuff gets co-opted and thrown on T-shirts and beer coozies to the point where it gets trite and worn, but the core belief that the answers they seek are attainable by the players in the room if they do what they’re asked never wavers.
They don’t ever get to a point where they wonder who they are.
PATRIOTS 23, FALCONS 7
- Pats' block-the-field-goal practice finally pays off
- Defense steps up in 'gotta have it' situations
- Butler: Defense 'just playing smarter and better'
- Jones: Falcons' comeback attempt was fogged in
- Curran's Preview/Review
- Perry: Five quick thoughts
- Curran: Best and Worst
- Felger: Falcons seemed 'desparate' and 'panicked'
The flip side of this is that -- over the same 17-year run -- the Patriots have a tendency to wreck teams.
Hours before the Patriots dismantled the already reeling Falcons, the Seattle Seahawks -- a 10-win team in each of the past two seasons since losing to the Patriots in Super Bowl 49 -- had a sideline dustup where Doug Baldwin, one of their best players and leaders, shoved offensive-line coach Tom Cable. It’s standard fare out there with an immensely talented team that routinely allows itself to devolve into a screaming, finger-pointing mess of men who all seem to believe they know what’s best and that the guy in charge doesn’t know better than they do. And they have Super Bowl 49 to thank for that.
And the same loss of identity seems to be underway in Atlanta, where the Falcons are melting from the head down in the wake of their Super Bowl 51 loss to the Patriots.
Sunday night, in the Super Bowl rematch between two teams that entered the night trying to gain a toehold, New England’s upward climb began. The Falcons, meanwhile, slipped even further from the team that had the Patriots in a chokehold in the third quarter of the Super Bowl but allowed New England to wriggle free and ruin the Falcons' psyche and confidence for the foreseeable future.
After the game, Falcons coach Dan Quinn was saying things like, "Believe in the team, like crazy. We’ve got work to do to get to our standard of ball. And we will work like crazy to do that.”
Bill Belichick, meanwhile, opened his remarks by lauding his team’s preparation.
"I'm really proud of our football team tonight,” said Belichick. "That includes everybody; guys on the practice squad, some of the guys that were inactive and of course all of the players that played and our coaching staff. I just thought they really worked hard this week. We had a very, very productive week. I thought the players were well prepared, ready to go and played hard for 60 minutes in all three phases of the game. We had a lot of contributions from everybody. We played good complementary football. It wasn’t always perfect but we played hard and we competed for 60 minutes and that was off of a real good week of work. Hats off to them. The players did a great job. They went out and played as competitively as they could and tried to play a smart game, made the adjustments, some of the adjustments that they needed to make to some things that Atlanta was doing, some looks that they gave us. [It was] a really good job by our football team tonight. I’m proud of what they did.”
There’s a saying in golf about the key to improvement: The secret is in the dirt. It means that the key isn’t talking about it or thinking about it or watching video, it’s in doing. Over and over again until it’s right and repeatable.
Through the first six games there were myriad issues the Patriots faced on both sides of the ball. Tom Brady was routinely getting bludgeoned and the Patriots' running game was inconsistent.
Sunday night -- even though Brady got banged around some -- there was further improvement and Brady consistently had room to step up and operate. The Pats were so effective on the ground (162 yards on 36 carries) that Brady threw just 29 passes -- the first time this season he’s attempted fewer than 35 and just the fifth time since the start of 2014 he’s thrown fewer than 30 in a regular-season game.
The Patriots couldn’t get control of games and couldn’t get off the field on third down earlier this year. Sunday night, they built a 17-0 lead and the Falcons were 0-for-5 on third down before halftime and 3-for-12 on third and fourth down in the game.
The Patriots consistently had secondary busts and were cutting receivers loose left and right. Six straight quarterbacks of mixed abilities had thrown for more than 300 yards against them. Sunday night there were no obvious breakdowns and Matt Ryan, the defending league MVP, threw for 233.
The Patriots had some bouts of bad tackling and front-seven play. Sunday night, they allowed 120 rushing yards and 37 of those came on Ryan scrambles.
Is everything fixed always and forever? Hardly. But to put this kind of performance together without cornerbacks Eric Rowe and Stephon Gilmore and linebacker Elandon Roberts -- all players who were at or near the top of the depth chart -- was remarkable. Especially against a team with the physical talent and resume of 2016 success Atlanta has.
"I thought we executed our game plan perfectly tonight,” said safety Devin McCourty. "Our coaches have been on us about just make a team make a play to beat us. You know, Julio Jones catch in the end zone, [Mohamed] Sanu’s catch on the 1-yard line -- like, those are great catches. I thought we competed and made them earn every yard. When you go against good teams, that’s what you have to do. We made enough plays. We played really well on third down, which we talked about always helps us when we play well on third down. And then tonight happened to be where we had to play plays on fourth down, and I thought we handled that well. That’s always a little different. It was just, overall, everyone understanding game plan and play-in, play-out, 11 guys on the same page.”
Getting ahead, which has been a point of emphasis the Patriots haven’t been able to satisfy, was a big part of the success, said Belichick.
"We played this game from ahead, that was a switch,” said Belichick. "We hadn’t done a ton of that this year, so that gives you an opportunity to run the ball more. We ran it in the fourth quarter which is another time where you can pile up some runs if you can make first downs. We weren’t able to do that against Tampa. We weren’t able to do it last week against the Jets. We did it tonight, so it was good to get those yards when they knew we were going to run and when we needed to run we got the yards.”
There will be times, too, when the opposition plays right into your hands. Atlanta was hell-bent on getting its mojo back. It wanted to attack. The first time the Falcons rolled the dice on fourth down in the first quarter they lucked out and got nine yards on a fourth-and-seven scramble by Ryan. That drive ended with a blocked field goal.
Near the two-minute warning, set up at the Patriots 48 and trailing 10-0, the Falcons tried it again on fourth-and-six. They threw a low-percentage downfield ball to Mohamed Sanu that missed, and the Patriots took possession and cruised in to make it 17-0. It was a stupid, chest-puffing exercise in bad situational football and it backfired. So, too, was the decision to try a jet sweep on fourth down from the New England 1.
Now the Falcons have that to dwell on. Along with the blown 17-point lead last week against Miami. And the blown 25-point lead in the Super Bowl. The Falcons came into Foxboro and dug themselves deeper.
And the Patriots’ annual climb began.